25th Anniversary Special – Top 25 Rebels in franchise history; No. 21 Alex Petrovic
Jesse Wallin could see the potential in Alex Petrovic from the moment the youngster pulled on a Red Deer Rebels jersey for the first time.
“Absolutely,” said the former Rebels head coach, who was an assistant under Brian Sutter during the 2007-08 WHL season, then ran the Red Deer bench for the next four years.
“Even when he came up as a 15-year-old (for 10 games during the ’07-08 campaign) he was just so poised and had such a presence about him.
“He was big, he could skate, and he just had a maturity about him with how he approached the game. You just knew right from the get-go that this kid was the real deal.”
Petrovic, Red Deer’s second-round pick in the ’07 WHL bantam draft, joined the Rebels on a full-time basis in ’08-09 and appeared in 66 games, scoring once and collecting 13 points to go with 70 minutes in penalties.
He proved to be more valuable to the Rebels during each of the next three years and turned in a 57-point (7g,50a) season in 2010-11, the winter in which Red Deer won 48 games with the likes of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Byron Froese and Andrej Kudrna leading the club offensively.
Petrovic was selected by Florida in the second round — 36th overall — of the 2010 NHL entry draft and the six-foot-four, 206-pound rearguard — at 24 years of age — is in his second full season with the Panthers.
Wallin, who was the Rebels bench boss from 2008 to 2012 — when he was relieved of his duties by owner and general manager Brent Sutter — attributed Petrovic’s development and his rise to current NHLer on the attitude he carried while in Red Deer.
Wallin, now a full-time amateur scout with the St. Louis Blues, credited Petrovic’s parents for keeping their son balanced.
“Alex wasn’t a guy who was a real outgoing personality,” said Wallin. “I would say that in the beginning he was kind of a throwback and that really stemmed from his parents (Pecha and Kim).
“His parents are really grounded people. His dad is a real down to earth guy with good values and I remember dealing with him even when Alex came up as a 15-year-old.
“They always kept a level head about things and Alex approached the game in that way. He wasn’t a loud guy in the locker room and yet he had a real intensity about him and played for keeps. He approached the game in a very professional manner and I think a lot of that goes back to his upbringing.”
That the Edmonton native is now a full-fledged NHL player is of no surprise to Wallin, himself a former Rebels blueliner who went on to play 49 games with the Detroit Red Wings.
He was, however, somewhat taken aback that Petrovic — a two-time WHL all-star who was honoured as the league’s top defenceman for the 2011-12 season, his final year in Red Deer — wasn’t plucked earlier in the NHL draft.
“I fully expected that it would eventually happen for him,” said Wallin. “But I remember when he slipped to where he did in the draft . . . I was shocked that he went that low.
“To me, he was a prototypical first-round NHL draft pick.”
Wallin regarded Petrovic so highly not just because of his skills, but also his reliability.
“As a coach you just loved putting him on the ice,” said Wallin. “He could play against anybody, even as a young guy.
“You knew what you were going to get from him and he could play the game however you wanted. He provided offence and he provided a physical edge. If you needed toughness he brought that.
“You couldn’t faze him, there was no game too big or too small for him. He just approached things with a big-league mentality. He was a big-time defenceman, in my opinion.”
After splitting time with the Panthers and the club’s AHL affiliate in San Antonio for two years, Petrovic appeared in 66 games with Florida last season, scoring twice, adding 15 assists and racking up 90 minutes in penalties.
He produced one goal and five points in 16 games this season before going on the injured reserve list Nov. 16 with a broken ankle.